An autobiography by Ben Carson The strategy in which Dr. Carson’s mother applied to combat his failing grades reminds me of the advice given to help struggling readers in, “What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Programs” by Richard L. Allington. In it, Allington states, “..if I were required to select a single aspect of the instructional environment to change, my first choice would be creating a schedule that supported dramatically increased quantities of reading during the day.” In other words, what struggling readers need is more time reading. Not workbook activities, but simply good ole’ fashion reading.
Dr. Carson explains that he did not like reading and his grades reflected this. His mother reacts by not only telling him and his older brother Curtis that they could no longer watch television except for two pre-selected programs a week, but that they had to read two books from the library each week and write a book report for each book because as she explained to them, they were not living up to their potential.
As a teacher of struggling readers, I’ve cringed at instruction based upon large amounts of instructional time dedicated to read aloud or workbook activities. I’m always wondering when our students will have the time to practice what we’ve taught them? In other words, you master skills by independently practicing it. Of course these children need teachers to guide them, but its okay to let them struggle a bit when learning how to apply the strategies we’ve taught in order to become proficient readers. Dr. Carson not only becomes interested in reading, he excels, becomes confident and known as Ben Carson, the brightest student in his class. Now, if a child from a single mother with only a third grade education can become the brightest student in his class simply by being exposed to books, just imagine the gains that other struggling readers can achieve if they had the same exposure and it was reinforced.
Later in the text, Dr. Carson acknowledges that unfairness, racism, and sexism exist but states that individuals who face these biases can acquire knowledge that make them valuable and when they have knowledge that others do not readily have, it does not matter what one looks like, someone will need them.
So many of our youngsters like Dr. Carson stated tend to think of themselves as performers, singers, or ball players instead of scientist and mathematicians. I think about African American males who are not only disadvantaged when it comes to hiring practices due to race, but because of this pervasive self-identification with being a performer, they have abandoned all educational pursuits, so when it’s time to interview the question that I ponder is why should an employer hire them? What knowledge do they have that would make an employer deem them as being valuable? And even if they were to become self employed, do they have the knowledge needed to run a business, to sustain when competition for the same product exist? Now this situation does not only apply to African American males, it applies to white males or any other one of our babies who are struggling in school and has simply given up. So many of our babies are lost being unmotivated or not mature enough to ask for help. They do not understand the life skill of try and try again until you succeed. It is going to take parents like Dr. Carson’s mom, educators like myself, and other adults to invest in them and show them the importance of persistence, and why its so darn important to see themselves as more than being an entertainer.